It was joy for the 200 plus visiting supporters to Stark’s Park on Saturday as Alloa Athletic confirmed their place in this season’s Championship Play-Off Final against Dumbarton following a 4-1 aggregate victory against Raith Rovers.
The hosts made numerous attacking changes prior to the second-leg kicking off, with Jonny Court the surprise inclusion in the starting eleven as experienced strikers Liam Buchanan and Greig Spence had to do with a place on the bench.
For Alloa, they were unchanged barring the one enforced change which saw Steven Hetherington drop out through injury, with John Robertson replacing him in the midfield.
As the home side made their way up the stairs and onto the pitch via the tunnel to a 1600 strong home crowd, the Rovers knew a home victory was vital to give them any hope of overturning Alloa’s first-leg 2-0 win.
Court had the first chance of the match on 4 minutes but he slashed the ball wide. His left-footed attempt was poor after good buildup play by Jason Thomson on the right.
Then, John Herron done well down the right to bustle his way into the area: the midfielder hit the deck on the byeline after a challenge by Callum Crane but there was no infringement by the Hibs loanee, despite shouts for a penalty.
Chances were continuing as Scott ronertson played a one-two on the right before firing across goal, only to see the ball blocked away. Next, Court had another chance as he headed over Vaughan’s outswinging corner before Vaughan himself forced Parry into a save at his near post as he cut in from the left, but the keeper was at full stretch at denied the Kirkcaldy clubs top goal-scorer.
Alloa had rarely been in the home sides half but on the midway mark of the opening period, Kevin Cawley fired in an attempt but it drifted over. Then, after a period of pressure, Jordan Kirkpatrick cut inside of Thomson but his right-footed attempt lacked power as it dribbled into the arms of Graeme Smith.
Play quickly switched back to the other end as Court broke down the left before swinging in a teasing ball to the back post; it found Vaughan but he volleyed effort was blocked. The attacker was to be in the midst of the action once again as he struck from distance, with his piledriver going narrowly past Neil Parry’s post.
Herron saw a shot across goal blasted clear in almost identical fashion to Robertson’s chance earlier on in the clash. However, on 38 minutes, the deadlock was broken.
A long ball caught out Raith defensively; Kyle Benedictus fouled his marker, Ross Stewart, on the edge of the area. The Rovers captain would be punished as Kirkpatrick’s spectacular near-post effort from the left curled home beautifully, leaving Smith with no chance – the hosts now needed 4 to win!
As the second-half got underway, Barry Smith was already in the process of forming his first switch of the game. Kirkpatrick saw a shot deflected into the arms of Smith in the meantime before Bobby Barr quickly replaced Robertson on 49 minutes.
Soon after, Willis Furtado broke down the left; his near-post effort almost caught out Parry who touched it round for a bother. The resultant corner saw the equaliser: a header smashed off the bar before Euan Murray guided the ball home from 12-yards out to give the hosts some hope.
Seconds later and they almost grabbed a second as Parry fell over his own mam who was lying on the ground, dropping the ball in the process – this allowed full-back Kevin McHattie to strike venomously from the edge of the penalty box but his effort was stopped on the line by a covering defender.
Iain Flannigan drifted from right to left and his weaving run won a corner as he jinked his way into the area before seeing his shot blocked. From the delivery, the set-piece cross found Taggart at the back post. His attempt was palmed away by Smith before Celtic loanee Jamie McCart knocked the resultant loose ball over the bar.
The tempo was frantic but neither side could create too many clear opportunities: Kirkpatrick was found in the area after a good ball in by Flannigan. The shot was blocked by a brave Murray, who stabbed the ball away for a corner as he lay on the deck.
With around 15 minutes to go, both sides made switches. Herron went off for Spence while Gary Fleming was replaced by Callum Smith.
With Benedictus pushed up front, it left Raith exposed defensively. Smith held up Murray before laying it off to Stewart who ran in on goal and showed composure to send Alloa through. The on-loan St Mirren forwards goal, with 10 minutes remaining downed the hosts as the fans slowly began filing out of the stadium.
Murray headed Barr’s corner over but no comeback was forthcoming. Cawley was taken off for Kris Renton late on – with Alloa actually looking the more likely to add to their tally.
Stewart and Smith linked well again but keeper Smith denied the attacker a second goal of the afternoon. The tall forward was taken off shortly after, with Daryll Meggatt coming on in his place.
Dunfermline loanee Callum Smith couldn’t add salt into the wounds of the Pratt Street side. The Clackmannanshire men march on, as they hope to secure their place in next season’s SPFL Ladbrokes Championship.
FULL-TIME: Raith Rovers 1-2 Alloa Athletic (1-4 on aggregate)
1. Graeme Smith
2. Jason Thomson
6. Kyle Benedictus (Captain)
5. Euan Murray
3. Kevin McHattie
4. John Herron (Greig Spence 75′)
8. Scott Robertson (Bobby Barr 49′)
20. Regan Hendry
10. Lewis Vaughan
16. Jonny Court
21. Willis Furtado
17. Rory Brian (GK)
7. Greig Spence
9. Liam Buchanan
11. Bobby Barr
12. Ross Matthews
18. David McKay
19. Dario Zanatta
1. Neil Parry
2. Scott Taggart
4. Andy Graham (Captain)
5. Jamie McCart
3. Callum Crane
6. Gary Fleming (Callum Smith 76′)
8. John Robertson
11. Iain Flannigan
10. Jordan Kirkpatrick
7. Kevin Cawley (Kris Renton 84′)
9. Ross Stewart (Daryll Meggatt 88′)
21. Andrew Wilson (GK)
12. Kris Renton
14. Callum Smith
15. Daryll Meggatt
16. Dylan Monaghan
17. Jim Goodwin
Referee: Stephen Finnie